The prophecy about parables (Mt 13:35-13:35)

“This was to fulfill

What had been spoken

By the prophet.

‘I will open my mouth

To speak in parables.

I will proclaim

What has been hidden

From the foundation

Of the world.’”

 

ὅπως πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος Ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς.

 

Matthew uniquely cited this prophecy from the Psalms, Psalm 78:2, where the psalmist Asaph explained the teachings from long ago.  Jesus was going to open his mouth in parables about the old-fashioned sayings, like the wisdom writers.  These sayings had been passed on from his ancestors, showing the great deeds of Yahweh that he had done for Israel.  Jesus, via Matthew, justified or fulfilled (ὅπως πληρωθῇ) what the prophet Asaph in the psalms had said (τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος) about the use of parables.  He would open his mouth in parables (Ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου) to proclaim the hidden mysteries from the foundations of the earth (ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς).  The parables were a way of conveying wisdom, with only the initiated able to understand them.

Jesus explained why he used parables (Mt 13:11-13:13)

“Jesus answered them.

‘To you,

It has been given

To know the secret mysteries

Of the kingdom of heaven.

But to them,

It has not been given.

To those who have,

More will be given.

They will have an abundance.

But from those who have nothing,

Even what they have

Will be taken away.

The reason that I speak to them

In parables is that

Seeing,

They do not perceive.

Hearing,

They do not listen.

They do not understand.”

 

ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν ὅτι Ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν, ἐκείνοις δὲ οὐ δέδοται.

ὅστις γὰρ ἔχει, δοθήσεται αὐτῷ καὶ περισσευθήσεται· ὅστις δὲ οὐκ ἔχει, καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ.

διὰ τοῦτο ἐν παραβολαῖς αὐτοῖς λαλῶ, ὅτι βλέποντες οὐ βλέπουσιν καὶ ἀκούοντες οὐκ ἀκούουσιν οὐδὲ συνίουσιν.

 

This response of Jesus about the meaning of parable can be found in all 3 synoptic gospels, Mark, chapter 4:11-12, and Luke, chapter 8:10.  Matthew is closer to Mark here.  Jesus answered them (ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν).  He told them they had been given the knowledge of the secret mysteries about the kingdom of heaven (ὅτι Ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν).  However, this was not granted to others (ἐκείνοις δὲ οὐ δέδοται).  Those who had more knowledge, even more abundant knowledge would be given to them (ὅστις γὰρ ἔχει, δοθήσεται αὐτῷ καὶ περισσευθήσεται).  However, those who had nothing, (ὅστις δὲ οὐκ ἔχει), even what little they had would be taken away (καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ).  The reason that Jesus spoke in parables (διὰ τοῦτο ἐν παραβολαῖς αὐτοῖς λαλῶ), was that some people see, but do not perceive what they see (ὅτι βλέποντες οὐ βλέπουσιν).  Some people hear but do not listen or understand what they hear (καὶ ἀκούοντες οὐκ ἀκούουσιν οὐδὲ συνίουσιν).  This is almost like a gnostic interpretation of knowledge, where only the elite have a true secret knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom.

The development of the gospel biblical texts

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, his followers expected him to return at any moment, certainly within their own lifetime.  There was little motivation to write anything down for future generations.  However, as the various eyewitnesses began to die, there was more concern.  The missionary needs of the church grew, so that there was a demand for written versions of the founder’s life and teachings.  The stages of this process included this first oral tradition stage.  Then the stories and sayings of Jesus were passed on largely as separate self-contained units, but not in any order.  There were some written collections of miracle stories, parables, and sayings, with the oral tradition continuing alongside these.  Finally, there were the written proto-gospels that served as the sources for the canonical gospels.  The final gospels were formed by combining proto-gospels, written collections and still-current oral tradition.  All four gospels use the Hebrew Jewish scriptures, by quoting or referencing passages.  They interpreted texts or alluded to various biblical themes.  Their source was the Greek version of the scriptures, called the Septuagint, since they did not seem familiar with the original Hebrew.

The Q source

The Q source is a hypothetical written or oral collection of Jesus’ sayings that was common to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark.  This Q source included many parables and the beatitudes.  According to this hypothesis, these sayings of Jesus was taken from the early Church’s oral tradition.  In the 19th century, some New Testament scholars favored Mark as the first written gospel.  They assumed that that the authors of Matthew and Luke had used the Gospel of Mark.  However, there were large sections of the gospels of Luke and Matthew that were not found in Mark.  They suggested that neither gospel drew upon each other, but from a second common source, termed Q, from the German word Quelle.  Many scholars have tried to reconstruct this lost source with limited success.  Another group of scholars thought that the 20th century discovered Gospel of Thomas might be that source.  Others have maintained that this similarity also demanded a written rather than an oral document.  Did Q even predate the Gospel of Mark?  Another question is whether Luke used Matthew instead of having a common source, the older hypothesis.

The early orthodox apostolic writings

The 2nd century apostolic writers had a loose connection to the original apostles.  Some of these early 2nd century writings were occasionally considered part of the canonical biblical writings.  This post-apostolic group lived after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE.  These authors included Clement of Rome (40-101 CE) and his writings, as well as the so-called Second Letter of Clement, a 2nd century sermon, but not from Clement.  There also was Ignatius of Antioch (50-117 CE) with his letters, and the 2nd century Pseudo-Barnabas letter.  From the late 1st century, the Didache, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, has intrigued scholars.  The 2nd century Shepherd of Hermas, has an apocalyptic document that included visions, commands, mandates, and parables or similitudes.  Theophilus of Antioch (115-180 CE) and Melito of Sardis (+190 CE), an important bishop of Asia Minor, were writing apologists for Christianity.  Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) and his pupil Origen (185-254 CE) played an important role in the developing Christian theology in Alexandria.  Justin the martyr (100-165 CE) gave a great description of the Christian activities.  Irenaeus (140-202 CE), a disciple of the martyr Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, wrote against various early Christian heretics.

Praise of King Solomon (Sir 47:12-47:18)

“After David,

A wise son rose up.

Because of David,

He lived in security.

Solomon reigned

In an age of peace.

Because God

Made all his borders tranquil,

He was able

To build a house for his name.

He provided a sanctuary

To stand forever.

How wise you were

When you were young!

You overflowed

Like the Nile River

With understanding.

Your influence spread

Throughout the earth.

You filled it with proverbs

Having deep meaning.

Your fame reached

To far-off islands.

You were loved

For your peaceful reign.

Your songs,

Your proverbs,

Your parables,

With the answers you gave

Astonished the nations.

In the name of the Lord God,

Who is called the God of Israel,

You gathered gold like tin.

You amassed silver like lead.”

Sirach points out that King Solomon inherited a peaceful nation with secure borders because his father, King David had fought so many battles. Thus Solomon was able to build a Temple for the name of Yahweh and a sanctuary that would exist forever. King Solomon was wise from his youth with an understanding like that of the great Nile River. His proverbs had deep meanings, as his influence and fame spread throughout the whole world, even to far-off islands. Solomon’s songs, proverbs, and parables astonished everyone. When Solomon called upon the name of the Lord, he amassed a great fortune in gold and silver, as if they were like tin or lead.

Introduction (Prov 1:2-1:6)

Let them learn about wisdom.

Let them learn about instruction.

Let them understand words of insight.

Let them gain instruction in wise dealing.

Let them gain instruction in righteousness.

Let them gain instruction in justice.

Let them gain instruction in equity.

Let them teach shrewdness to the simple.

Let them teach knowledge to the young.

Let them teach prudence to the youth.

Let the wise also hear.

Let them gain in learning.

Let the discerning acquire skill.

Let them understand a proverb.

Let them understand obscure figures.

Let them understand the words of the wise.

Le them understand their riddles.”

Just like the psalms, this book of proverbs has a poetic rather than prose format. Originally this section was one long Hebrew sentence. In order to become wise, they have to learn and understand words of insight, wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity. These proverbs will teach shrewdness, knowledge, and prudence to young people. Even the wise people can gain knowledge and acquire skills in understanding proverbs, obscure statements, and symbols. In fact, these proverbs will help you understand the wise men and their riddles. These obscure figures are more like metaphors, parables, or allegories, while the riddles use analogy.

The call to listen (Ps 78:1-78:4)

A Maskil of Asaph

“O my people!

Give ear to my teaching!

Incline your ears

To the words of my mouth!

I will open my mouth in a parable.

I will utter dark sayings from of old.

These are the things

That we have heard and known.

Our ancestors have told us these things.

We will not hide them from their children.

We will tell them to the coming generation.

These are the glorious deeds of Yahweh,

These show his might.

These are the wonders that he has done.”

Psalm 78 is one of these long didactic psalms that relate the whole history of the Israelite people, like Psalms 105 and 106 as well as Psalms 135 and 136. This psalm is also a maskil of Asaph as the others in this series. We will learn the lessons of Israelite history, with a special emphasis on particular favorite heroes. There is an initial call to listen with care to the teaching of this psalmist, Asaph. He was going to speak in parables like the wisdom writers. These are the stories that were passed on to him by his ancestors. Now he was not going to hide it from the current children and the generations yet to come. All this shows the glorious deeds of Yahweh and his strength in the wonders that he has done for Israel.